Iranian Regime’s Strategic Depth Showing Signs of Collapse
By Amir Taghati
New developments suggest that Iranian regime’s influence in Syria, Yemen and Iraq is on the decline and its strategic depth is beginning to fall apart.
Regime media and officials however try their best to pretend they’re in a very stable position, particularly with regard to Syria and Yemen.
The question however is what this situation entails and what’s really happening in the region?
Khamenei’s strategic depth: signs of collapse
Russian president’s special envoy to Syria ‘Alexander Lavrentiev’ declared on May 19, 2018 that Vladimir Putin’s remarks on withdrawal of foreign troops from Syria actually address the US, Turkey, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran’s military forces.
“It seems that Moscow has made up its mind regardless of Tehran’s viewpoints, to play ‘Iran elimination card’ in exchange for cutting a deal in Syria,” writes Rouhani-linked Etemad newspaper on the same day Lavrentiev made his point.
Since it’s Russia, and not Iran, that has the final say in Syria, there are signs that suggest Iranian regime forces and its hirelings are pulling out of southern Syria.
Meanwhile, regime’s secretary of Supreme Council of National Security ‘Ali Shamkhani’ saying that the regime has no presence in southern Syria could be interpreted as regime’s compliance with the call for its withdrawal from that area.
So, the result of recent developments, even with the most cautious analysis, is that regime’s presence in Syria in its current political and military shape is in conflict with Russian interests. That’s why the regime is being forced back from its strategic depth and a country where Khamenei has squandered billions of dollars, albeit at the cost of widespread poverty and destruction in Iran, to maintain its presence and influence there. This is by itself a huge failure for regime and its macro policies towards Syria and the region.
In Yemen, Houthi militias are on the brink of a total defeat, so imminent that UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffith formally announced on June 4, 2018 that the Houthis’ only option is to either officially accept defeat or unconditionally withdraw their forces from the Yemeni port of Al-Hudaydah.
Regime meanwhile is trying to save what could still be saved in Yemen before the military situation in the country turns one-sidedly against the Houthis.
It could be said with certainty now that the regime is currently engaged in negotiations with four major European countries, namely France, Britain, Germany and Italy, with regime’s withdrawal from Yemen being the main topic.
The efforts made by the terrorist Quds Force’s commander Ghasem Soleimani to form a regime-linked coalition government in Iraq were not productive.
Recent developments in Iraq suggest that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is going to form a coalition government led by Muqtada al-Sadr and also with the participation of Ayad Allawi. Considering the fact that Iraq’s social atmosphere is severely against the Iranian regime and also with regard to US presence in the country, it could be said with certainty that the direction of developments in Iraq is also against the Iranian regime’s interests.
The role other international factors play in the balance of power
Taking all the above mentioned developments into account--regime’s forced retreat from southern Syria and its defeat in Iraq and Yemen—points to a new situation in the region. It’s now become quite clear that as far as foreign factors are concerned, the direction of developments in the region is against regime’s interests, undermining the foundations to which Khamenei refers as regime’s strategic depth.
The bigger picture will however be revealed only when other international pieces are also added to the puzzle.
The fact is that it’s the international community’s demand that the Iranian regime stops its terrorist and interventionist policies in the region and withdraws all its forces and hirelings from the regional countries. This is what the United States, Europe and Arab countries have decisively asked for.
Iranian regime’s withdrawal from Syria is also one of the 12 demands the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is insisting on, as part of the United States’ new strategy towards the mullahs’ regime.
Although it’s true that Russia plays a hegemonic role in Syria, but eventually the country has to choose between acceding to international community’s strong request-- requiring the Iranian regime to stop its regional interventions-- or going on with its partnership with the regime, particularly considering the fact that the issue of Syrian refugees is now a major concern for Europeans, a concern to which Russia should respond. As five million Syrian refugees in different countries, European ones in particular, are considered as a potential security threat, it’s essential that the Syria problem be resolved in such a way that the refugees could turn back to their homeland.
What role other regional factors play in the balance of power?
Also in this regard, the role such regional countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan are playing should also be taken into account, which along with other factors has been pushing for the regime to be expelled from Syria.
So, in the current balance of power the international community’s demand is basically inclined towards sweeping regime’s forces off the region.
The decisive role the Iranian people have played to shatter Khamenei’s strategic depth
In addition to the above mentioned factors, and even more important than all of them, is the role the Iranian people have played in the equation.
It should be observed how the Iranian people with their uprising have managed to drive regime’s regional approach into a corner in which it’s going to fail no matter how it plays.
Maybe the most important factor that’s forced the regime to retreat in the region has been the pressure coming from the Iranian people, who are strongly opposed to regime’s interventions in the region. And this is a contradiction that won’t be going to let the regime off the hook until the last moment of its life, as the society’s eruptive state requires that the regime be more dependent on its regional interventions --or its strategic depth as they put it-- and try more than ever to secure its presence in the region, but at the same time this same policy will lead to serious tensions within the Iranian society and in its interaction with the regime, a situation that has entered a whole new stage the day after January’s nationwide uprising.
Pulling out of Syria, Yemen, etc. is no longer an option for the regime, but it’s a reality imposed on it.
The world witnessed how the costs of a foreign war broke the back of a superpower’s economy in Afghanistan. Now that the Iranian regime’s economic crisis has put people under utmost pressure, continuing to be engaged in regional wars in this or that country is not an easy task at all, particularly considering the society’s eruptive state and in a situation where the noose of international sanctions keeps being tightened on Khamenei’s regime day after day, causing the regime to be burdened with the costs of its foreign wars while the ‘appeasement policy dollars’ are no longer available.
All these domestic, social, economic, political, regional and international factors point to the fact that the regime is on a decline with regard to regional balance of power, making regime’s position in the region weaker and more fragile than ever before.